The political decision to envelop women into SOF roles has been a controversial and tumultuous conversation. However, it’s important to note that women have always played a role. In fact, war and intelligence have never just been about men.
Harriet Tubman began was a spy who freed hundreds of slaves and burned down plantations for the Union Army. Virginia Hall was a member of the OSS and deployed to German-occupied France. She had already been there in a similar capacity for the British. The Germans gave her the nickname Artemis. The Gestapo reportedly considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”
A decorated and honored service member of World War II known by the Gestapo as “The White Mouse” is Nancy Wake. She served as a British Special Operations Executive agent. These tales of glory are awe-inspiring. Nancy Wake was the most decorated woman of World War II. John Lichfield of the Independent wrote that in her life, “she became a nurse, a journalist who interviewed Adolf Hitler, a wealthy French socialite, a British agent and a French resistance leader. She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France.” The article detailing her life in the Independent is here. She died at the age of 98 in 2011.
If Nancy Wake and Virginia Hall aren’t badasses, I don’t know who is. A book entitled, “Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS” by Elizabeth McIntosh, who worked undercover in the OSS herself, has a detailed retelling of these brave women in the early days of special operations. Elizabeth McIntosh died at 100 last year, in 2015. Women have been in SOF for some time, most recently, with the advent of Female Engagement Teams (FET) – but, women have been operations officers in the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies in the intelligence community for far longer and since the agency’s birth.